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Tourism primed to be key driver of local economy

A busy day at Doe Mountain. File photo

By Jill Penley

The state continues to enjoy outstanding tourism growth, continually exceeding economic impact numbers, and bringing new jobs to Tennesseans. According to the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, tourism remains the state’s second largest industry behind agriculture, with all 95 Tennessee counties reporting an increase in the economic impact of tourism in 2018.
Tourism means jobs and jobs mean economic stability. Every tourist destination starts somewhere and for rural areas, like Johnson County, it means touting the natural beauty locals sometimes take for granted. While off the beaten path, this area offers visitors a unique history, unexpected culture and a wide array of recreational activities.
“There is a genuine sense of renaissance and renewal gathering momentum within Johnson County,” said Richard Calkins, Tourism Development Council (TDC) President and owner of Harbin Hill Farms. “There is tremendous potential for attracting more visitors to the county, based on the natural beauty of Watauga Lake and the surrounding mountains, recreational opportunities for fishing, boating, hiking, biking, and ATVs, and our historical and cultural attractions.”
Calkins reports the primary objective of the TDC at the moment is the further development of the website to include a current calendar of events to disseminate and promote. “The idea is to let people from outside the region know about all of the
incredible activities and events that are going on in Johnson County,” he said. “We are also working on a
five-year tourism development plan, and will be sharing that draft plan with a wide range of community leaders as soon as we have a reasonable first draft.” That group, according to Calkins, would include political leaders, local community leaders from each of the main sections of the county, event sponsors, and other community organizations.
While events remain fluid from year to year, there are some areas of the county that provide year-round fun for locals and visitors alike. Johnson Countians and many visitors continue to enjoy a plethora of recreational activities at Watauga Lake.
In addition to normal lake activities like swimming, boating, canoeing, and kayaking, there are several businesses that cater to visitors, offering rentals, tours, etc.
Anyone paying attention knows Doe Mountain Recreation Area (DMRA) is
bringing visitors to the beautiful mountains of East Tennessee.
Since the purchase of Doe Mountain by the state and the creation of the DMRA in 2012, the 60+ miles of scenic multi-use motorized trails have quickly become a favorite for ATV, UTV, OHV, side x side and dirt bikes. “Mountain City was recently listed as one of the top trail towns in Northeast Tennessee,” reports Tate Davis, DMRA Executive Director, “in part due to the close proximity to our expanding trail system.”
Hiking Trails are also expanding at Doe Mountain. “Over the next few months we plan to open several short pedestrian paths to interesting points on the property,” said Davis. “Additional picnic tables will offer more opportunities to kick back and relax during your visit.” There are also points in the area where one can enter the Appalachian Trail for day hikes.
Mention “the Snake” and motorcycle enthusiasts from across the nation recognize the name given to the 33-mile stretch of twisting, winding, asphalt heading into Shady Valley.
Tucked away in the corner where the states of North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia come together, this stretch of US Highway 421 north of Mountain City, which has been drawing visitors to Johnson County for several years, boasts 489 curves.
With respect to agriculture, the rich, fertile soil of the East Tennessee Mountains ha fed many generations of Johnson Countians and can provide a unique learning experience to visitors to the area. Johnson County has also been designated an American Viticultural Area (AVA), which specifies a grape growing region that is unique in soil, climate, and/or geography. The local vineyards produce high quality wine grapes for two local wineries.
In addition to the numerous recreational activities, Johnson County is also home to several historical sites and two museums full of interesting artifacts.
Those who enjoy live theatre and musical performances can visit Heritage Hall, a masterfully restored turn of the century theatre, while visitors to the area who seek authentic
Appalachian artwork and enrichment experiences can visit the Johnson County Center for the Arts, a venue created to showcase a wide array of crafts and products from area artisans.